I am writing this on a crowded train, on my long, weary way home from Goodison Park, where I have just watched Everton lose yet again on their own turf, this time 3-2 to West Ham. Like so many of Everton’s games this season, it was a cracker for the neutrals. But I’m not a neutral.
It will take me three hours to get home. But that’s nothing compared with the two Blues I shared a cab with on the way to the ground from Lime Street. They had come from Norway. And even that is a hop compared with the lad whose taxi I shared on the way back to Lime Street. He had travelled all the way from New York City, just for two days, just for the game.
Of course, that’s the gamble one takes as a football fan. I understand that. And I don’t doubt that you and the players are hurting after squandering yet another commanding lead. But I do hope you might spare a thought for all those who make such a huge investment of time and money to come and see you, week after week. And whose pay-off is a string of painful home defeats.
Now, having said all that, let me add that I like the cut of your jib, Roberto. I think you’re a decent, honourable man, and you understand what it means to follow Everton. Everyone thinks their club is unique, but only Evertonians know that theirs really is. You seem to get that. Moreover, you have added flair to the solidity David Moyes brought. You do get your teams playing entertaining football. I appreciate that.
But I think now is the time to look into your soul, to discover whether you are a man of humility. Because if you are, you will surely accept that defeats such as today’s are down to nobody but you. It was disingenuous of you, perhaps even cowardly, to say that big Rom’s missed penalty – ghastly as it was – was the main reason we lost this afternoon. Players do miss pens. It happens.
However, what I can’t remember happening in my 45 years as a diehard Everton fan is seeing a team so repeatedly and catastrophically incapable of protecting a lead. And that has to be your fault. I watched today’s game, and then discussed it afterwards, in the company of several distinguished ex-pros. I won’t name them because I wouldn’t want to embarrass them. But like me, they were flabbergasted when you replaced Lennon with Niasse.
Like me, and I should think virtually everyone in the stadium, they could see that if Lennon had to come off at all (arguable, given how well he was playing, and how hard he works) then the situation – 2-0 up but a player down – screamed for someone with the experience and defensive instincts to guard our advantage. Barry, in other words. Or even Osman. Not a striker new to the Premier League (who, by the way, looked thoroughly out of his depth from the moment he came on).
I imagine you’d counter that attack is the best form of defence, that Niasse’s job was to hold the ball up, that closing a game down smacks of negativity (which you hate). And you have other arguments in your locker. You can point to your extensive coaching qualifications, to your FA Cup winner’s medal with lowly Wigan, to the fact that you see the players every day in training, and we don’t.
But don’t let any of that blind you to what is glaringly obvious to everyone who loves Everton perhaps even more than you do. There is no shame in protecting a lead. It is just as much of a footballing art as establishing a lead. But, manifestly, you don’t know how to do it, how to re-organise your personnel, how to make match-saving substitutions. So please, be humble. Find someone who can teach you, and do it soon, for your own benefit as much as the club’s.
Otherwise you will never be the success in management that you plainly aspire to be, unless of course you become the manager of a convenience store. You’ll be great at that, because you never shut up shop. Joking aside, though, you might find that as new investors lead Everton towards a brave new world, you’re not part of the advance.
With best wishes,